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COP26 chief Alok Sharma calls on the G20’s climate laggards to ‘step up’

By Angela Dewan, International Climate Editor, CNN

COP26 President Alok Sharma called out the G20 nations that have not increased their pledges on climate ahead of the international talks in the Scottish city of Glasgow, which begin in less than three weeks, alluding to nations like China, India, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

In a speech at the UNESCO World Heritage Center in the French capital, where nearly 200 nations struck the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015, Sharma reminded G20 leaders that their climate and energy ministers in July agreed to set out ambitious 2030 emission-reduction targets before COP26.

So far, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, the EU, Canada, the US, Argentina, Japan, South Korea and South Africa have boosted commitments, he said. China, India, Australia and Saudi Arabia are among those left.

“And now, the rest must deliver,” he said. “So I say to those G20 leaders, they simply must step up ahead of COP26.”

He added that the countries that had pledges to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century “want the same ambition, the same level of commitment from the largest nations, the G20 countries, which account for around 80% of global emissions.”

“The response of the G20 will quite simply be make or break for keeping 1.5 within reach,” he said, also asking G20 nations to “kick coal into the past” by phasing out use of the fossil fuel domestically and end funding for new projects abroad.

As the COP26 summit draw closer, Sharma has been using more forceful language toward countries with weak pledges.

In an interview with Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald last week, Sharma called on Australia to double its emissions-reduction pledge to fall more in line with countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union.

Parties to the Paris Agreement were required to update their pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), by July 31 this year.

More than 70 countries have made those updates, but dozens have failed to do so, may of them members of the G20 group of nations.

Australia updated its NDC on New Year’s Eve last year, with little fanfare, offering the same commitment as it did five years earlier — a 26-28% reduction by 2030 from 2005 levels, around half that of the United States, and well below the EU’s and UK’s plans. But the idea of the five-year update is to put forward more ambitious pledges.

Australia is also the second-biggest exporter of coal and says it will mine the fossil fuel well beyond 2030.

For political reasons, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also resisted calls to commit to net-zero emissions by mid-century, even though every state and territory in the country has made the pledge.

Countries can achieve net zero when greenhouse gas emissions fall to zero through a combination of reducing current emissions and removing previous emissions from the atmosphere. Dozens of countries have made a mid-century commitment to reaching net zero.

The United Arabs Emirates last week became the first Persian Gulf petrostate to make a net zero pledge.

“COP26 is not a photo op or a talking shop. It must be the forum where we put the world on track to deliver on climate. And that is down to leaders. It is leaders who made a promise to the world in this great city six years ago. And it is leaders that must honor it,” Sharma said.

“Responsibility rests with each and every country. And we must all play our part. Because on climate, the world will succeed or fail as one.”

Sharma also laid out his plans for the upcoming conference, including a pathway on how negotiators can “keep 1.5 alive,” a key goal on his agenda. To achieve this, Sharma will press countries to reduce coal, boost the use of electric cars, protect trees and reduce methane emissions. He will also push developed countries to honor a pledge to transfer $100 billion a year to the global south to assist its green transition.

Sharma announced new funding provided by the UN’s Climate Change body for attendees to self-isolate, should they contract Covid-19 in Glasgow.

He added that the UK was funding quarantine hotels for delegates and offering vaccinations to accredited delegates who can’t access them in their own countries.

“It will be an extraordinary COP in extraordinary times. But collectively, we must pull together to make it work. Forging unity from the unfamiliar. Because we have no choice but to deliver,” he said.

“Each country must step-up. And as COP26 President I will ensure that every voice is heard. That the smallest nations are sitting face to face with the world’s great powers. As equal parties to the process.”

Boris Johnson calls Saudi, Indian leaders

Sharma’s speech comes a day after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke his holiday in Spain to talk with leaders in India and Saudi Arabia to press them on their climate goals, among other bilateral issues.

In his call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Johnson “underlined the importance of making concrete progress on climate change ahead of and at the upcoming COP26 Summit,” a 10 Downing Street statement reads.

“He noted that India already lead the world in renewable technology and expressed his hope that they will commit to a more ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution and to achieving Net Zero emissions.”

According to a readout of Johnson’s call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: “The Prime Minister hoped to see a Net Zero commitment and an ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution from Saudi Arabia, noting the country’s recent leadership on addressing climate change.”

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